With 14 games gone in the Premier League season, most would have expected Bolton Wanderers to be battling it out for a spot just outside the relgation zone, however a combination of hard work and new found confidence has them sitting on the edge of the Champions League places.
A thumping 5-1 win over Newcastle United at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday means that the club are already well over halfway to matching last season’s points tally of 39 points which saw them finish 14th.
For most of the 2000s, Bolton Wanderers were simply known as ‘long ball merchants’, too skillfully inept to be able to string more than two or three passes together without lumping the ball forward to a target man.
This was of course a case of over exaggeration considering Bolton boasted the likes of Jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff in their squad, but as they say “there’s no smoke without fire”, and they were certainly not the easiest on the eye. While Sam Allardyce’s side were reasonably successful in their own right, qualifying for the UEFA Cup through the league and reaching the last 16, the football was never inspiring but that is all changing under the stewardship of Owen Coyle.
Since joining the club from Burnley in January of this year, Coyle has instilled a belief in his players that sees them express themelves with confidence on the park.
“We’re in high spirits but at the same time we’re not taking anything for granted,” says defender Zat Knight.
“We know how quickly things can change in football and for that reason we’re just taking things one game at a time. Everyone’s working as a team. We’re all happy and we’ve got goals coming from all over the pitch.
“We need to maintain that morale. Training has been fantastic and everyone’s spirits are high.”
A prime example of Coyle’s ability to get the best from players is Swedish striker Johan Elmander who for a long time was seen as one of the biggest flops in Premier League history following his £8.2 million fee move from Toulouse in 2008. After enduring an horrific goal drought in the league which lasted 11 months between December 2008 and November 2009, Elmander has now scored seven times in 14 games so far in this campaign.
Bolton have also benefitted from a settled midfield with Fabrice Muamba and Stuart Holden forming an excellent partnership on the middle, Lee Chung-Yong on the right and either Martin Petrov or Matthew Taylor on the left. Holden only joined the club from Houston Dynamo at the beginning of the year but has been superb having recovered from a broken leg sustained while on international duty back in March. The 25 year old, who was actually born in Scotland, is an energetic box to box midfielder who is very composed on the ball and compliments Muamba’s more defensive style perfectly.
“I’m enjoying my football and that’s when you find your best form,” said Holden after recently agreeing a contract extension until 2013.
“With the team we have here, and the work ethic for each other, it allows you to get on the ball and play a bit. I think we’ve got a good flow throughout the team and if we keep playing the way we are it could be a good season for Bolton Wanderers.
“As long as the team’s winning and I’m putting in good performances life can’t be much better.”
One thing that has remained constant at Bolton is skipper and talisman Kevin Davies who was finally rewarded for years of hard work with an England cap in the recent game against Montenegro at Wembley. The 33 year old has forged an excellent partnership up front with Elmander, and his two penalties in the win against Newcastle takes his season tally to six already, impressive considering he has only ever reached double figures once in the top flight.
The revolution at Bolton is in full swing at the moment, but one has to wonder how long it will be before a top club comes knocking on chairman Phil Gartside’s door with a compensation package lined up in exchange for Coyle.